On the left is a weekender’s house, like a tree-house built on piers and usually seems empty. Their grass is mowed infrequently and mostly has tassels on top. Parked on the driveway and shrouded in a car cover is one of those mini-SUVs that are popular in Westchester. On the right is the colonial, like a life-size doll-house, with a pool and a two-car garage and two girls in the local school. Their grass is short and plush and uniform like a golf course. Our grass is tended to by a team hired by the landlords, and is a mixture of manicured and wild.
A few weeks back we woke up to a hot, humid morning and it quickly went from “too hot” to “much too hot” to the kind of hot that elicits groans. The dogs were walked perfunctorily, up the driveway past the doll-house and the tree-house and down the driveway again. It was the birthday of the youngest boy, and a not insignificant one at 15. He had planned his camp sessions around being home for this birthday. What did he ask for? Not a thing. He was asked and again and again, before, during and after his trip to camp, and his answer was always, “I’ll think about it.”
|Azuma Sushi in Hartsdale
|In the end, we had a quiet day, to the extent that an afternoon punctuated by a thunderstorm is quiet, and a bustling early evening: losing internet when it was most needed for research, racing to the art supply store 40 minutes away before they closed, almost running out of gas, finding a gas station where none of the pumps worked, picking up the Medium Cheese at a Different train station, circling round and round in a vain effort to park, having to call the restaurant to let them know we’d be late. Finding good food near North Dreadful sometimes means compromising on either proximity or quality, and on birthdays that seems unfair. So we put on smiles when we sat down for sushi in Hartsdale.
Back in the 80s when we lived in Burlington, Vermont, we ate at Sakura on Church Street almost once a week. Before then, neither of us had ever had sushi, but a friend worked there who taught us what to eat and how to eat it. Since then, we typically find a favorite sushi place wherever we live, and eat there regularly.
In Seattle it was Aoki, at the top of Broadway. Of course there is the over-the-top Nishino on Madison for special occasions, but for the weekly Japanese food feed we preferred Aoki. The very first time we ate there, it was a hot summer day in Seattle and we were looking for cold air-conditioning. Aoki has some decorating quirks, including benches that seem to be made from sample pieces of laminate and a framed rising sun flag. Sometimes we would surprise them by showing up with extra people or with fewer when kids went off to college, but they always recognized us and greeted us warmly.
Last summer in mid-town we ate at a couple of different sushi places, finally settling on one where the giggly wait-staff summoned up the courage after a great deal of consultation with her co-workers to ask one of us if he was half-Japanese.
We order a lot of food when we go, and we eat it all. My favorite sushi story of all though involves the time the Medium Cheese and his not-half-Japanese son went to sushi while the rest of us were out of town. They ordered all the usual things, in all the usual quantities, and realized, as they struggled to finish, that the two of them together had eaten as much as they normally eat with two or three more people helping.
How often does a person need a vacation? Certainly vacations are a first-world luxury, and even within the developed world, standards for appropriate amounts of time off vary from the American two weeks to countries like France and Finland where they have 10 national holidays and 30 mandatory days of vacation. Even within the U.S. there is wide variability about holidays granted by employers; my husband, the Bacon Provider, earned his keep at Microsoft for almost 18 years, never once getting to enjoy Martin Luther King Day because it’s business as usual at Microsoft on Martin Luther King Day. By my accounting, he worked 18 days that the federal government set aside to honor a civil rights leader and encourage shopping after Christmas. This is almost four weeks of vacation.
For our spring vacation last year, we planned a trip to Japan and Hawaii. The Bacon Provider has been to Japan on business a number of times, and has been talking about taking me there for years. We were also taking our two kids still in the house these days, boys aged 17 and 13. I have been looking forward to going to Japan for a long time. We bought tickets in advance to visit the Ghibli Museum on April 14th. You have to buy these tickets in advance, but it is not possible to purchase tickets from the U.S. online. Instead, you must make reservations over the phone. It is a complex transaction, where the purchaser is required to give the full name and birthdate of each ticket-holder. This memorable phone conversation took up the better part of a morning, to a local Japanese tourism office in Seattle.
Obviously, rolling blackouts and food shortages and radioactive fallout from catastrophic failure at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima Daiichi meant that we did not go to Japan for this vacation. I have waited a long time to go to Japan, and I will have to wait some more.
When I was a little kid and still believed in the possibility that the world was a very magical place, I used to imagine that nothing happened outside of what I could currently see and experience. If people went out of view, they stopped existing. Sometimes this was kind of a cool idea, because it meant that I did not need to worry about missing interesting things. Other times, this was a very scary idea, especially when my parents took me to stay at my grandparent’s house while they went out of town. I do remember wondering if places that I had never been actually existed, or if they would be conjured up just before I arrived.
One of the many side effects of being a parent is sometimes phrases get stuck in your head from books and movies and books-on-tape enjoyed by your children when they were young. My oldest (now an adult) loved Thomas the Tank Engine, and I can hear in my head, “A change is as good as a rest!” whenever I think about vacation planning. I don’t think we travel to rest up. I think we do it to get out of our ruts.
People closest to me know that this moving-to-New-York-thing has been a bit of a long, bad vacation. A number of things have not worked out how we expected, and I find myself living in a spooky and lonely rural/suburban town for which there are no freeway exit signs, as if living here means getting away from it all, whether or not you want to get away from it all. I do not have all of my clothes or books or sewing supplies. In early July I took a road trip, across the U.S., which ended with moving in to a furnished apartment. From there we moved to a furnished house. In the summer there were days when I had so much trouble getting going that I would sometimes get back in bed, fully clothed, at mid-day. The pets thought it made perfect sense. It was more of a function of needing a place to sit in a small apartment than a sign of suffering, but I did do it more than once. These days I have too much to do.
That I am ready for a vacation means that this is where I live: amongst the long drives to everywhere, the deer, and the spooky water which goes to the faucets in Manhattan. Right now, I am planning a trip to Barcelona in a few weeks. Only my youngest son will be able to come along, but the Bacon Provider has reason to go there for work and it sounds pretty interesting to me. I have never been to Spain. Those magical people better get to work building Barcelona before I get there.